Even a nine-over match has lessons

2012-09-15 00:00

WHEN rain reduces a T20 cricket match to a Nine9 slog-fest, which is then mercifully drowned before the point at which a result can be reached, surely no value at all should be attached to the truncated proceedings? Normally the answer is that whatever took place during such a match, if it can be called that, ought to be consigned to the nearest dustbin without further thought.

The South African innings at Manchester, however, contained a stark reminder of the utter futility of sending out a succession of callow youths to do a man’s job.

With only nine overs available to the batting team, the South African camp deemed it the right strategy to send into bat, ahead of Jacques Kallis, all the so-called big hitters.

One could not argue with their thinking if what they were doing was to give a knock to those who had not yet had an innings in any of the limited over internationals or to those who were in poor form. The T20 matches against England were put into the tour itinerary in order to prepare both teams for the World Cup T20, which starts on Tuesday in Sri Lanka. It made perfect sense to give an innings to those whose tour had been spent on the sidelines.

The consequences, however, of such thinking should not be ignored.

The T20 World Cup is being held in a notoriously unreliable climate in which rain-affected cricket matches are as much the rule as the exception. The chances of reduced matches in the tournament must be regarded as higher than usual in which case the Proteas management must take into account what actually transpired last Monday evening in Manchester.

Five batsmen — Richard Levi, AB de Villiers, Albie Morkel, Duminy and Justin Ontong — went out to bat with the apparent instruction to have a belt at every ball bowled to them in conditions that suited the fast bowling attack of England.

The result of such adrenalin-fuelled bravado is illustrative. Between them these five batsmen faced a total of 18 deliveries or a third of the allotted 54 balls.

Of the 13 that they actually survived, they managed to score just 10 runs. Their overall strike rate was 55%, which would not win a team any full-bodied ODI of 50 overs, let alone a Nine9 hit-out.

In contrast to the efforts of the quickly dismissed five, when Kallis eventually came to the crease he helped himself to 13 runs off seven deliveries, which is a healthy strike rate of 185%.

The Manchester match underlined the difficulty of allowing batsmen to go into the middle with a licence to kill. What we saw at Old Trafford was the sporting equivalent of the over-the-top mentality that resulted in such appalling slaughter in WW1. Dead soldiers are of as much use to an army as dismissed batsmen are to a cricket team.

Another issue is that in limited-over cricket, most teams will generally do best by having their top batsmen face as many balls as possible.

I am sure this principle will not often see such a stark example as that provided in the Manchester game, but if we want to win this upcoming T20 World Cup, our best batsmen must go in ahead of the sloggers in all but the most extreme occasions and perhaps even then.

It is too late now because the squad has been chosen for Sri Lanka, but surely there is an argument for including the best batsmen in a team irrespective of the format of the match. Hashim Amla and Kallis are irrefutable examples of top-quality batsmen, being the most effective performers for South Africa in all forms of the game.

Over the long haul I would back Alviro Petersen, for example, to produce better performances than Levi at the front of an innings in T20 cricket because he is a better batsman who is less easily restricted than the powerful Capetonian.

At present rates, Levi comes off once every seven innings in T20 cricket, which means that he may win you 14% of the matches in which he plays. In a restricted innings of 20 overs or less, when a team should not be bowled out, it may be worthwhile carrying one Levi type batsman, but his six failures for every success put pressure on to the other batsmen.

The gamble is that Levi could win his team vital matches, but the corollary is that the better teams know how to contain him, thus reducing even further his chances of success.

My concern is that the Proteas’ T20 squad contains too many batsmen who do not have a proven record of success outside provincial cricket. I have a feeling that if JP Duminy is unable to back up the performances of the big three, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers, South Africa will again come short in an ICC World Cup.

With none of the Manchester lessons apparently learnt, South Africa proceeded to lose the final T20 match at Edgbaston with a truly awful display. The tone was set and they never recovered from a sloppy first over from Morkel that cost 16 runs.

The nadir of their performance came when Wayne Parnell lost his composure under pressure from the England novice, Joss Buttler, and conceded 32 runs in an over.

In between these two match-losing overs, the spinners did reasonably well on a helpful pitch, but De Villiers ignored the evidence before him and did not bowl either Ontong or Du Plessis. He preferred instead the Proteas’ default option of pace with disastrous results. The captain himself had a dreadful match.

He missed an easy stumping chance and his keeping was disturbingly untidy. His captaincy became flustered under the onslaught of the England batsmen and once again he failed with the bat. Well before the Edgbaston match was over, the Proteas looked anything but a genuine contender for next week’s world cup as the hitters in the team were again rolled over with alarming ease.

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